|Lifetime:||1322 - 1333|
|Way of Life:||Virgin, Nun|
|Patroness of:||First Communicants|
|Traditional Catholic Feastday:||May 13|
|Modern Feastday:||May 13|
Blessed Imelda was born in Bologna, Italy about 1322, of the family of the Lambertini’s - a family name distinguished for both the nobility and piety of its members. For many ages, the Lambertini name held a certain distinction and notoriety. In fact, one of this illustrious line became the great Pope, Benedict XIV.
It was into this lineage that Imelda was born. In baptism, she was called Magdalen. From her earliest years, she eagerly listened to the holy stories and religious instruction that her parents gave her. Both her parents were very pious. Her father was a rich, brave, and powerful nobleman, who filled several important posts and was remarkable for his charity to the poor, especially to the religious orders dependent upon alms. His wife, Castora, was worthy of him. She had a particular devotion to pray for the souls in Purgatory, and for their relief she made many charitable donations to monasteries and churches.
It was amidst these sentiments, that Magdalen grew. Giving herself to a life of devotion, she made a little oratory for herself, where she loved to recite the Psalms and other prayers. In everything she did, she tried to put the thought of the Child Jesus uppermost in her mind. How would Jesus, the Son of Mary, pray? How would He work? How would He do whatever His blessed Mother and dear St. Joseph wanted Him to do? These were the questions that occupied her thoughts, and she strove to imitate Jesus in all things. By this means she grew in wisdom and grace before God and men.
Some people tried to make her vain about her dress, or her beauty, or the riches of her family. Little Magdalen took no interest in such topics. The simpler her attire, the better she liked it. She thought, too, that by having fewer and plainer clothes she would have more to give to the poor. Her parents, being charitable and generous themselves, taught their little girl to make sacrifices, so she could give more to the poor and distressed. Her prettiest toys were joyfully carried to poor children, especially to the sick, with whom she loved to talk and visit. She would tell them the stories she had learned about Jesus: about Bethlehem, where He was born; Nazareth, where He worked in St. Joseph's carpenter shop; and Calvary where Our Saviour died on a Cross to save us.
So by the time she was about nine years old, this devout little girl had a great wish to live in a religious house. This child had clear and fixed ideas about her future. She realized that nothing on earth can be compared to a happy eternity, and that the only important thing in this life is to save one's soul. She also understood how different the spirit of the world is from that of God. Her heart yearned for a safe haven where she might renounce the world and belong entirely to Jesus Christ. She therefore begged her parents to place her in some convent. Her parents willingly granted her desire, and asked the Dominican nuns at the convent of St. Mary Magdalen, in Valdepietra, near Bologna, to receive their daughter Magdalen.
Now in those days, it was a common thing to allow children who were preparing to become a Religious, or who had that desire in their hearts, to put on a habit that was similar to those worn by the nuns in the convent. And while the religious of Valdipietra received little Magdalen with joy, she seemed a little too young to wear the habit. They could not, however, resist her pleadings, and decided, notwithstanding her youth, to let her be clothed in the holy habit of the Dominicans.
Imagine the little girl’s satisfaction and joy when, in 1331, she found herself robed as a Spouse of Christ, and heard herself addressed as Sister Imelda. The religious habit did not bind for the future; and there could be no profession of vows until she was much older. But the Divine Lover of souls, Who had set His seal upon this beloved child, heard her heart's vows of love, and bound her to Himself by ties that were never to be broken. Imelda now belonged to Jesus.
We are told that Imelda was, at this time, remarkably tall for her age, fragile and delicate, and fair as an angel to behold. The young Saint threw herself heart and soul into the new life which had opened before her. This nine year old set herself to practice the austere Rule with loving fidelity, devoting herself to the exercise of prayer and penance. As her great love for Jesus grew and was purified by her sufferings, her fervor to obey the rules of their Order rendered her a model even to the oldest and most saintly of the Community. She erected a little Calvary in the most remote part of the garden, and there she loved to retire, in order to meditate undisturbed on the sufferings and death of her Divine Spouse.
But above all else, the devotion of her heart was to Jesus hidden in the Sacrament of His love. With every fiber of her being and all the ardour of her soul did she long for the happy day when Our Lord would unite her to Himself in Holy Communion. “Tell me,” she often said to her religious sisters, “how is it possible to receive Jesus into one's heart and not to die?”
This great and deep love for the Blessed Sacrament caused Imelda to burn with desire to be united to her Eucharistic Lord. When others knelt before the altar to receive Holy Communion, tears filled her eyes and rolled slowly down her cheeks. “When, oh when will He come also to me?" she murmured. The nuns knew of this longing in her heart. They knew, too, her purity and piety. Yet in that country, First Communion was only for those fourteen years or older, and they could do nothing to help Imelda. They encouraged her to persevere in her love and to pray while she waited. The little girl tried to bear the pain this caused her. At holy Mass, she thought of the sufferings of Jesus, and begged Him to help her to carry this heavy cross of being kept away from Him.
To some, it may have seemed that Jesus was ignoring the pleadings of this tender loving soul but, in reality, He was merely purifying her love and her soul by these sufferings which He permitted her to endure. God only sends us crosses if we can benefit by them; if we don’t waste them. By patiently offering up her sufferings to Our Lord and humbly accepting His Holy will, she was meriting a higher place forever in Heaven and therefore a tremendous increase in her eternal beatitude.
And in reality, Imelda’s heart was not the only one that burned, with ever increasing intensity, for union. As her soul became more increasingly beautiful to God, His Own desire to be one thing with her became increasingly more difficult to restrain. Finally, He could wait no longer.
It was May 12, 1333 and Imelda was around 11 years old. The two years which she had now spent in the religious life and the approach of the great feast of the Ascension only intensified her longing for the Blessed Sacrament. But while all the nuns approached the Holy Table, she alone knelt apart in a corner of the Choir, pouring forth her acts of fervent desire, and weeping bitterly because she was not allowed to share their happiness. And when Mass was over, and the priest had left the altar, the Community dispersed to discharge their various duties. Yet, in the dimly lit Choir, Imelda knelt on, absorbed in prayer.
Suddenly, the nuns smelt a heavenly fragrance filling the convent grounds. Following its aroma, they made their way back to the Choir, where a wondrous sight met their eyes. A radiant Host was suspended in the air above Imelda’s head. Her Heavenly Bridegroom had heard her prayer.
The astonished nuns immediately summoned the chaplain to the spot. He came in his sacred vestments, with the paten in his hand, and knelt in wondering adoration, awaiting some further manifestation of the Divine will. Then the Host gently descended upon the paten. The priest understood, and gave the Blessed Eucharist to the long-awaiting girl. The transport of love, joy, and gratitude was too great for the weak bodily frame; the happy child closed her eyes, and, in the kiss of the Lord, breathed forth her pure soul to go and make endless thanksgiving in Heaven.
She had died from love, and her happy soul was with Jesus for ever.
Imelda was beatified by Leo XlI., 1826, and Pope Pius X named her Protectress of First Holy Communicants. Confraternities in her honour have been established in several places. During the movement to have her canonized in 1900 (still incomplete as of yet), her body was exhumed. Imelda's body was found to be incorrupt; meaning that without any ointment or preservative, her body hasn't decayed at all since the 1300's. It still appears as though she were still alive, only sleeping. Blessed Imelda’s beautifully incorrupt body can still be seen in the Church of St. Sigismund (Sigismundo).
We should pray for her to obtain for us that love which burned so brightly in her heart. She should especially be invoked by those who are preparing to receive Our Lord in Holy Communion. Though we may perhaps not die, as Imelda did, in that moment of joy when Jesus rests within our hearts, we should desire to live completely for our most dear Lord. May our hearts ever more glow with true love, and longing, to receive Jesus. May He may dwell within us always - never, never to be driven out by indifference or by sin.
O Lord Jesus Christ, who, wounding the Blessed Virgin Imelda with the fire of Thy love, and miraculously feeding her with the Immaculate Host, didst receive her into heaven, grant us, through her intercession, to approach the Holy Table with the same fervour of charity, that we may long to be with Thee, and deserve to be with Thee, who livest and reignest for ever and ever. Amen.